Friday, August 4, 2017

Alice Cooper – Paranormal

Paranormal” is the first album for legendary shock rock god Alice Cooper in 6 years. Despite that break in recording (at least, for original songs), he has been quite busy. Nevertheless, for a man who typically puts out albums every 2-3 years, things were looking quite scary until “Paranormal” dropped. The good news is that this album absolutely hits the mark, and is just about everything an Alice Cooper fan could want. The lineup is a bit strange; Alice recruited Larry Mullen from U2 on drums, and guitars were split by Tommy Denander (who?) and live guitarist Tommy Henriksen. Strangely though, a number of tracks feature original Alice Cooper members Michael Bruce, and especially Dennis Dunaway and Neal Smith. So like some other Alice Cooper records, there is a fairly diverse lineup throughout the album.

One might expect the songwriting quality to decline over the years (at the very least, it has been fairly inconsistent since the mid-1970s), but “Paranormal” features several of the best songs of Alice’s career. The first 5 tracks in particular are all excellent. “Fireball” is the highlight (almost unanimously amongst everyone who listens to this record). It is the ultimate driving song, with an old-school production that brings back memories of Deep Purple’s “Highway Star”. The song was written by Dennis Dunaway, and you can tell as he just crushes it on bass. It constantly charges forward without relent, and has some great guitar work as well.

Dead Flies” is a Hendrix-esque tune, driven by a bit of a wonky guitar riff. Alice says it was meant to bring back the feel of “Generation Landslide”, and it achieves that, both lyrically and musically. It’s your standard rock and roll song that feels just a bit off-kilter. Of course, Alice Cooper always has to be just a little weird, and that is exactly what “Paranormal” is. It’s a fairly standard Cooper-esque shock rock tune, with some creepy moments that erupt into some fantastic rocking. This wouldn’t be the only instance of this type of song, as “The Sound of A” replicates a similar feel, though it’s far more downbeat.

As the record soldiers on, it becomes clear why “Paranoiac Personality” was the lead single. It’s got a bouncy rhythm, reminding of “Enough’s Enough” from the “DaDa” record. Some of the riffs in this song also have a “Goes To Hell” / “Lace and Whiskey” era vibe. Ultimately, however, what brings the track together so well is Alice’s hypnotic vocal performance. The chorus has some great shouts of “paranoid!” in the background that help to make things even heavier and more potent. Following this effort is “Fallen In Love”, which is pure ZZ Top worship (and even features the lead axeman from the band!). It is yet another painfully catchy rock and roll song that should please all fans of the 1970s.

This track, however, reveals one of the two problems with “Paranormal”. Alice seems to have the mindset that each song has to have a theme or primary influence. A lot of these songs pay homage (too much homage, I would argue) to a particular band or song. The very next song, “Dynamite Road”, has verses that are identical to “The Devil Went Down To Georgia”. The remainder of the track is brilliantly executed, but the similarities are too hard to ignore. “The Sound of A” has drawn comparisons to Pink Floyd, and as mentioned above, there are definitely some ZZ Top and Hendrix-isms on this record. I’m not really a fan of any of these bands, so some similarities are less egregious than others to me, but the fact remains that Alice has a lot of great original material left in him, and he should embrace that rather than trying to capture a specific sound on each track.

The other weakness of this record is some of the songs on side 2. “Private Public Breakdown” completely misses the mark. It’s a slower effort (in contrast to a relatively speedy record) with a tame riff and very uneventful verses. The lyrics aren’t great, and there’s really nothing interesting about the song, other than the fact that it feels so out of place. Following this is “Holy Water”, a song that is similar to “Feed My Frankenstein” in that it’s not really an Alice Cooper song, but the lyrics were re-written by Alice and so it was made into his own. The verses are strange beyond belief, yet the chorus manages to be one of the catchiest on the record. As a result, the song is stuck in an awkward place where it isn’t all that good, but will be stuck in your head all day.

Those are the only two bad songs. Some others, like “Rats” and “You and All Of Your Friends” straddle the line between being good and just ok. Truthfully, there are many Alice Cooper albums where the second side of the record is fairly irrelevant, so these songs do manage to hold on compared to those other albums, even if the songs aren’t as brilliant as the first half of the album. Fortunately, “Genuine American Girl” resides near the end of the record to keep the quality high throughout. Despite a strange doo-wop chorus, this is one of more memorable efforts. It features the original band, and while it doesn’t necessarily recall the early Alice Cooper albums, it is clear that there is some special talent playing on this song. 

All things considered, “Paranormal” beats expectations. It’s a fairly short album (barely breaking 41 minutes with 12 songs!), and most of the songs are quick-paced and feature a surprising amount of shredding. The reunions with the original band (Dennis Dunaway in particular) vastly exceed expectations, and the rest of the material isn’t bad either. Relative to “Welcome 2 My Nightmare”, this record feels a little less gimmicky and thought-out, but that’s why it’s just a great rock record (though the former album is strong as a whole). Perhaps if I had been along for the ride for some of the earlier Cooper records, I would be able to appreciate some of the weaker material as much as I do for this album, but the overall quality on “Paranormal” is fairly high, and because of that, it ranks quite strongly in Alice Cooper’s discography; an amazing feat for a nearly 70-year old man!

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"Paranoiac Personality"
"Fallen In Love"
"The Sound of A"
"Genuine American Girl"

Final Rating
4.3/5 or 86%. 

Written by Scott

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